The possible anti-aging and anti-cancer effects of the most widely used diabetes medication in the world were discussed at the latest instalment of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar’s (WCM-Q) Grand Rounds.

Dr Chris Triggle, Professor of Pharmacology at WCM-Q, summarised the research into the potentially beneficial side-effects of metformin, a synthetically manufactured drug that has been in use for over 60 years as a treatment for type-2 diabetes. It is estimated that more than 150 million people around the world use metformin every day.

In type-2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or the body’s cells do not respond adequately to insulin, which is responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. Metformin is an oral medication that helps to keep blood sugar levels under control by improving insulin sensitivity.

Speaking at WCM-Q to an audience of fellow health professionals, Dr Triggle said that metformin is the ‘first choice’ medication for treatment of type-2 diabetes because it is ‘very effective’, and ‘very inexpensive’, and its side-effects were generally not severe. Indeed, there is evidence that suggests metformin may actually have some beneficial side-effects, such as anti-aging and anti-cancer properties, as well as protecting against cardiovascular disease. Studies of type-2 diabetes patients receiving metformin showed a statistically significant reduced incidence of cancer and improved survival rates among those who did get cancer.

Dr Triggle explained that the beneficial side-effects of the drug appeared to be related to its capacity to affect the function of the body’s endothelial cells, which line the interior surfaces of blood vessels. The endothelial cells play a key role in supporting the growth of new blood vessels in tumours, and metformin appears to interfere with this process. Dr Triggle also spoke about some of his own research into a protein called Sirtuin 1, which is encoded by a gene called SIRT1 known to be involved in the ageing process. Metformin appears to interact with the SIRT1 gene and interrupt the ageing process. This interaction also appears to slow the deterioration of the cardiovascular system.

Research conducted in Dr Triggle’s laboratory at WCM-Q has been published in some of the world’s most important medical journals, including the British Journal of Pharmacology.